A whole lot of misery! How did the TV’s Ruth Watson keep this family’s Cornish mansion from collapsing? With drastic action ¿ and some very hard love…
A whole lot of misery! How did Ruth Watson from TV prevent this family’s Cornish mansion from collapsing? With drastic action – and some very hard love…
Georgina Le Grice is no stranger to horror stories, thanks to her job as a literary agent in London. But she never expected to end up in Trereife House, her family’s mansion in Cornwall. The picturesque 18th-century property was falling apart and there was no money to save it.
‘I moved to Trereife House when I was only two,’ says Georgina, 24, ‘and my elderly grandmother moved. It had 80 acres of land, 14 rooms and six huge, ornate bedrooms. We never had heating, and in the winter I went to sleep in layers and two duvets. But I didn’t mind, because I loved the house.’
Georgina knew from an early age that she and her younger brother Peter, 23, were heirs to an estate with a remarkable history. The house has been home to the Le Grice family since 1798.
Saviour: Ruth Watson at Trereife House in Penzance with Tim, Peter, Georgina and Elizabeth Le Grice
But generation after generation has been hit by crippling estate taxes and operating costs.
In 1982 it was taken over by Georgina’s father Tim, who runs a law firm. A few years later, he moved his wife, Liz, and their two children.
With an ongoing cost of £40,000 a year to meet, Tim, now 68, put money into a series of projects that proved disastrous. A theme park with gypsy wagons, a zoo and a restaurant all failed and instead incurred significant debt.
At the beginning of last year, the house – and the family – fought to keep their heads above water.
It was then that Georgina, whose career as a literary agent in London flourished, realized how bad things were. She says, “I wanted to help, but I didn’t know which way to go. I’d seen Country House Rescue before and was hoping Ruth Watson might be able to give us some answers.”
But would Ruth, a millionaire, hotelier and businesswoman who does to crumbling landfills what Gordon Ramsay does to failing restaurants, save the family home?
The first meeting in May last year was a disaster.
Beautiful B&B: With an annual running cost of £40,000, the Le Grices have had to turn their home into a hotel
After inspecting the house, Ruth gave the family her assessment. She suggested a large-scale bed and breakfast, but when Georgina’s mother Liz, 62, refused to help, Ruth wasn’t too happy. Georgina recalls: ‘Ruth suggested that Mum give up her job as a librarian to run a B&B.
Mom objected, saying she wasn’t home. Then Ruth snapped back, “I can tell by the way you keep your house.” Mom held it together while the cameras were filming, but then she ended up in a flood of tears. I felt terrible.’
But Ruth feels harsh words were needed.
She says: ‘I found the house in a complete state of disrepair. There were holes in the roof, damp everywhere, damaged plaster cornices, and trees growing in the center of the outbuildings.
It was in such a state that Georgina and her brother would inherit a lot of garbage.’
She took care of the family duties: preparing four of the bedrooms for paying guests; exploring the possibility of renting out luxury yurts for high-end camping in the walled garden; and organize a literary event, which brings visitors to the estate.
Before Ruth came to help, I was so desperate that I bought 60 scratch cards in the hope of a miracle to save my childhood home. I didn’t win a cent
‘In the end, the bed and breakfast trial was a success,’ says Georgina, ‘with guests saying they loved the house and camped on the property. We knew there was potential, but Ruth wanted me to quit my job in London and move to Cornwall. At the same time, I was offered a promotion – and I felt totally torn.’
Ruth suggested dedicating two years of her life to launching the B&B, and Georgina agreed.
Renovations began, with the family plowing every penny they could spare to repair the roof and make the four bedrooms suitable for paying guests. “By the time of my last visit in October,” says Ruth, “I was happy to see some progress, but I didn’t know how far the family would go to make their business work.”
Four months later, and Georgina is finally the lady of her mansion, still clinging to her career. She arrives in Cornwall every Friday at 11pm and takes the train to London at 5am on Mondays. It’s a punishing regime, but one that breathes new life into the family estate.
Weddings are booming business and the bed and breakfast rooms are booming.
Georgina says: ‘Before Ruth came to help us, I was so desperate that I bought myself 60 lottery scratch cards in the hope of a miracle to save my childhood home. I didn’t win a cent.
Thanks to Ruth, we have now prepared the house for a prosperous future.’
Country House Rescue, 9pm, Sunday, Channel 4.